Surgery Marathons Raise Questions on Cost, Ethics
One man's procedure cost $300K, but it could push the field
By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 15, 2009 1:22 PM CST
Physicians in an operating room.   (AP Photo)

(Newser) – After 43 hours of on-and-off “ex vivo resection”—organs removed, operated on, and replaced—a Wisconsin man is free of the 10-pound tumor strangling his liver. Along with it went parts of his stomach and intestine, and his abdomen contains not only Gore-Tex tubing but parts of his carotid artery. Still, “he’s doing great,” the lead surgeon tells the New York Times. The paper takes a look at such marathon operations, which typically are the patient's only hope—but can involve a dozen surgeons and cost $300,000.

Such "extravaganzas" fall outside normal ideas of health care—the patient’s hometown doctors, in fact, said the tumor was inoperable. “What does this mean for medicine, doing these incredibly complex procedures to save individual lives?” said a doctor at the New York hospital where it was performed. “It’s an important philosophical question.” The Talmud says every life is all-important, but that's “not a very health-policy, quantitative way of looking at it,” he concedes.